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Warped Founder Kevin Lyman On The Festival’s 25 Year Legacy, The Changing Scene, And The 2019 Events

Brii Jamieson
Brii Jamieson 28 February 2019 at 18.00

Kevin Lyman talks about Warped's biggest year (when My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy played), his best memories, and bringing a human cannonball to the 2019 event.

As the sun starts to set on Warped Tour after 25 years, Warped founder Kevin Lyman appears equal parts enthusiastic about this year's events, and nostalgic for the event that Warped Tour used to be.

In the days before the last ever Warped Tour line-up is set to drop, Kevin spoke exclusively to Rock Sound about what's in store this year, and reflected on the 25 year legacy he's built within our scene.

What are the main differences between these 25th anniversary events, and a traditional Warped Tour set up?
Says Kevin: “Well I’m not on the road for two months, that’s going to be a huge difference. We’re going to be in one city for two days, which never really worked well on the traditional Warped Tour because when you have 800-1000 people parked up in a city for two nights, that got a little wild.

"But these are more traditional festival set-ups. One of the biggest things was trying to bring back a lot of the attractions, because a lot of you never got to see things like the skateboard ramps, the motorcycle jumping, the human cannonball or the wrestling. So we’re bringing all of those to the show, and we’re really looking forward to that. We’re also building a Warped museum to have at the events.

"We’re trying to make is as much of a Warped Tour as possible... We’re still not going to announce set times before the day, but we expect with the line-up that we announce, people will want to be there the whole day. People won’t want to miss the show.

"When I look at Slam Dunk, I think they’ve put together a wonderful line-up, and I think we’ve put together an equivalent or very similar line-up. But we’re trying to stretch over 25 years of bands, so I think we’ve got a good mix from the bands from those first five or six years."

And people are pretty excited for it - pre-sale sold out in five minutes earlier this week. That must feel pretty great?
“The two day passes that we had as a pre-sale, they just kept on going. We’re about 30% sold out right now without announcing any bands. That does show the legacy of the project - it’s not a Coachella or a Glastonbury situation, but to have that many people who believe in the brand, it makes me feel pretty good.

"Of course when we announce the line-up there will be people who go ‘oh but where’s that band?’, but we talked to everyone. It wasn’t like we left any rocks unturned.

"But I'm still getting calls. I got some calls this morning, and these calls are some of the bigger bands on our tour in the past. And now I’m trying to figure out how to squeeze them in.”

This is set to be the first time in 25 years that local bands aren't invited to play, and there's no local stage. Was that a conscious decision?
“Maybe there will be an additional stage, but  because we’ve been so focused on getting this ready, we haven’t thought about it yet.

"I’m so busy being a professor now at a university in California, and I have a lot of other projects that I’m working on. Now that I feel we have this solid line-up, maybe I can start to get involved in the more creative side.”

How many stages are there going to be at the two big events?
"Five stages at the moment."

And how many bands each day?
“Probably about 50. Somewhere between 40 and 50 per day.”

Speaking about the East and West coast events, are the line-ups for those going to be different?
“Yeah, so they’re not 100% different, but there's not a lot of crossover... they’re definitely not two duplicate shows. These ones will be very appealing to a certain segment of our audience. I think the ones who came out and supported us last year, the demographic went up a bit, but it’s largely people who have great fond memories of Warped Tour that came out. Which is why I’m giving them this big party this summer.”

And this will mark the first time Warped Tour have ever had a VIP option, after spending a number of years making sure that all Warped Tour attendees were equal and didn't get any special treatment...
“Yeah, we have VIP in Atlantic City! Trust me, I agonised over that. Agonised with it. But the venue on the beach, it has an area set up for that. And this might be an antiquated thing, but really the VIP just has an air conditioned tent, private bathrooms and a private bar. And ultimately that’s what people want from a VIP.

"You’re not going to get meet and greets, and everyone still has the same chance to go to signings. Whatever bands we can get to do the signings, that's for everyone. There may not be as many bands because they’re just coming in for the day, and I don’t know how many will want to do that... I imagine most of them will probably want to hang out with their friends at Warped, hang out backstage and have fun.

"But trust me, it’s agonising to me. And people tell me ‘you left millions of dollars on the table because you didn’t do this Kevin’, and it just wasn’t my thing. It still isn’t my thing. I was tortured to sign off on it a bit, but then of course they called me once we were on sale and told me we were going to completely sell out of VIP within 15 minutes. I’m like ‘well, what do I know anymore?’.

"We aren’t doing it in San Francisco. Yes, we’re doing a VIP at Atlantic City, but it’s an older audience who bought those tickets, and the up-charge for it wasn’t too crazy compared to what other people charge. You have to justify your bullshit sometimes, and I’ve just had to justify this in my mind.”

A couple of years back you were meant to have The Ghost Inside making their big return on the 2017 Warped Tour stage. Now that they're back, is there any chance they'll be on the 2019 line-up?
"I tried- I tried, I tried, I tried. But their manager said they were going to do their own thing. I tried. I really tried.

"But it’s absolutely so good to see them back. Absolutely. I’m hoping to get down and see their comeback show. And I always hold open a spot for them on the line-up, and I’ve always said to them that they are welcome on this show.

"But this one was a decision made by management and the band. It’s too bad that they won’t be on the show because I think people would be glad to have them. But it’s so great to have them back."

You joked on Twitter that organising these three events was such a pain that you considered just adding another 39 shows to the run...
“Oh yeah, booking three weekends is way harder than booking the tour, but that was really tongue in cheek. Some people take it all too seriously. Travelling on the road for two months in the summer is just probably not on the cards for me again.

People were saying that after last summer, which was so successful, that we should do it again. We were so lucky last year - while other people were getting their shows blown out we just had a good run. No drama last summer, at all. Whereas the year before we seemed to hit every piece of bad luck that could happen on a tour and it all came at once. So it’s just the law of averages.”

What made booking these three shows so much harder than a traditional full run?
“With this you get a lot more of ‘what’s the billing?’- it’s normal festival stuff. And the economics change. Understandably when bands have to fly in for a single date the economics change from when I was able to offer them 40 shows. Basically the agents went from making deals for 40 shows, to just one or two. The economics change completely, and the whole discussion changes with it.

Once you do a weekend as a festival, the agents don’t remember the previous 24 years, you just become another festival schmuck trying to put together a show. I guess with Warped, agents could put their bands on a stable two month run of shows… They knew the bands are going to have shows, and they’re going to be looked after. And for them they could just have their summer booked for that band.”

Was it always the plan to see Warped Tour out this way, with a couple of bigger events in these specific locations? Going out with a bang?
“I’ve been thinking about this for a few years. That’s why I was careful last year when I said that it was the last cross-country tour. Everything we ever said was that it was the last cross-country tour, because I did always have a plan to do a couple of special events. The locations were fluid up until maybe November, but as we narrowed it down - anyone who knows me knows that I love the beach and love the ocean - so [Atlantic City] made sense. It’s kind of central to the eastern seaboard, so people can get there from Boston, Virginia Beach and Washington DC fairly easily. And there’s lots of hotels that are reasonably priced in Atlantic City.

"Everyone has always asked me what my favourite city is too, and I’ve always said that I’ve found the best in every city. But now that it’s winding down I can say that San Francisco was always my favourite. There’s so many great memories of San Francisco, so many great people up there, and great music fans. The Northern California punk-rock scene was always great to me, and I always felt part of it even though I was a Southern California guy. I always felt a connection with the Northern California punk scene. We’re going to see a bunch of those bands playing on the show, and they’re going to bring their kids out and their families out- some playing. It just feels right, and I’ve always enjoyed being up there and doing a show.

"I think everyone expected me to do a show in LA being from Southern California, but I like to throw the unexpected out there.”

So does this mean the end of the brand for good? Even the global versions like Australia, Japan and the UK?
“This truly is the plan. It really is the plan to wrap up the brand.

"I’m getting involved in a whole lot of other projects now, outside of music. Branding and things like that. Music will always be a part of me, so I can’t say with any certainty that I won’t still do things with music, but I just need to try some new things. It’s been a long time. And now it’s time for someone else to create something. We’re almost 50 years old now creating an event for teenagers.”

Does it frustrate you at all that people seem to be rallying around the brand so much, now that it's all coming to an end?
“No it doesn’t frustrate me. It is what it is, and sadly if something goes away people pay attention to it. I think it was the public, and it was also the industry in some ways. I think in some ways they started taking Warped Tour for granted. Just saying ‘oh it’ll be there next year’. Because bands are touring all the time now and bands have lots of choices, Warped was always this thing and I think the industry took it for granted. They weren’t really supporting Warped towards the end.

"When we go back to the older punk days, the bigger bands in the scene would take a little step back to move the whole scene forward. Those bands like Bad ReligionNOFX and Pennywise- they knew and were like ‘let’s take a step back, bring all the young bands with us, and let’s make sure there’s enough money for them’.

"And understandably, the business has changed. When bands only really make money touring it becomes an economic thing, whether they’re going to have money to pay their bills that quarter. It’s not a case of casting blame, it’s just the way that society has changed, and how the industry has changed.

"Warped is something that went really well for a long time. We only ever had one bad year on Warped, and that was two years ago. At that point I had already decided that it was going to end at 25. I didn’t know if this year was going to be a cross-country tour, but that’s when I said that 24 cross-country runs is a good number. But we always had great summers and the bands had great tours.

"It just became harder and harder because those bands that helped pull along the younger bands just were not available to do Warped. So now Warped is gone, and a lot of people are trying to work out what to do next, but it only worked when we all worked together. When we all stood under the umbrella together. When people are out there on their own tours, or within three days there was a bigger band touring, that could maybe pull 100 or 500 people from your show. They just couldn’t go to both. It took everyone coming to Warped to make it work, and we never charged too much for a ticket. The economics of Warped were always very tight to make it work.

"Even when we had that one bad year two years ago, the bands had no idea. Because in the crowd were those die-hard Warped fans that bought tickets without seeing the line-up, and they were still there and screaming as loud as ever. It was maybe that curiosity-seeking fan that didn’t show up.

"I see that as a bit of a problem in general - these younger kids from 13-17 that were always feeding into Warped Tour, they stopped seeming to come to shows. And is that a pull from gaming? Potentially. Is it a pull that they’re not becoming emotionally attached to bands anymore, because they just hear them streaming in the background all the time now? I don’t know.

"But this is a real thing that we’re all talking about - now you even see in music that everyone is trying to jump into that gaming world. And I don’t even know if those kids really want music anymore."

You mention the worst Warped Tour - do you remember the best year for Warped?
"I think it was 2005 and 2004 - with all those bands like Fall Out BoyMy Chemical Romance, Hawthorne Heights and All-American Rejects.

"There was a television show in the states here called TRL on MTV, and that summer was the year that unbeknownst to me MTV decided to like all those bands that I had booked to play Warped Tour.

"So I had all of these kids that weren’t quite ready to come to festivals to be honest - because they were laying on their couches all day watching TRL and watching these bands on the TV -  but when Warped Tour came though and they got off their couch and came to a show, they promptly passed out because they weren’t ready to go to a festival in the middle of summer.

"We did 750,000 people that summer, and it was the most miserable experience. My partners are all like ‘oh my god this is great financially’, and I go ‘this was the worst summer ever because these kids all came to a hot parking lot, never ate, never drank any water, never went to the bathroom, and then as soon as My Chem walked out on stage they fainted."

Now that it's all wrapping up, what's your best memory from 25 years worth of Warped Tour?
“I always go back to the time we took Warped Tour to Australia. We were sleeping in tents, me and all the bands, all the way across Australia. We did a camping trip across Australia, and we were travelling with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Three Eleven, Blink-182, Pennywise and The Vandals. It was like having a big old camp out, and we were doing shows at surf spots across the country. Sleeping in tents.

To think that all of these bands followed me halfway around the world, and I don’t think anyone else has ever done a camping trip tour across Australia, and I don’t know if anyone ever will. Because I don’t think that anyone has the time to be as creative as that anymore."

Vans Warped Tour are set to drop the line-up for their 25th anniversary events on Friday. Get all the info on their 2019 events here.

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